Tony Roberts – Four chords and the truth
Tony Roberts is a very unique songwriter and performer - so unique that the local blood bank frequently calls him to donate blood. Growing up in Boston, Tony was obsessed with writing and frequently attended writing conferences. He read ferociously and loved Hemingway. He was inspired by the literature of the 50s Beat generation, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg (HOWL was a favorite). He did not get involved in music until later in life.
As a civil engineer student at Florida Atlantic University, Tony got a job as a Land Surveyor which convinced him that civil engineering was not for him. He quit school and started parking cars at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, where all the other valets were musicians. Tony started writing song lyrics for them. This convinced him that he needed to learn a melodic instrument, like the guitar, to be a songwriter.
Tony returned to Boston, and began guitar lessons at Longy School of Music. His teacher’s husband taught at Berklee College of Music. They groomed him for a year to prepare him to apply to Berklee. He attended four semesters at Berklee, studying a Professional Musician Program which focused on songwriting and recording. Tony has since recorded 13 albums. His first band in the Northeast was called Mindflow, named from a poem that Tony had written. They started touring in 1993.
While at Berklee, Tony met Ata Rovatti, a young Italian student, that he dated. While on a 5-month sabbatical, they lived in a small village, just south of Milan. Ata toured Europe playing jazz, and Tony followed. It was a great experience. They both went separate ways and are still good friends.
For Tony, Key West is not on the way to anywhere and that’s the way he likes it. He and a friend arrived in Key West in 1998, just before hurricane Georges. Living on Green Street, he could walk to all his gigs. Playing 5-6 times weekly became more like Groundhog Day. He had to leave occasionally, pushing himself to be exposed to new things and, as a songwriter, to be inspired to write and create. His signature dreadlocks are simply a rebellious middle finger to the what Tony feels is a rigid structured society that tries to diminish creativity and art.
In 2002, Tony was sleeping on a friend’s couch in Boston. The Red Sox team had just ended a disappointing season. As a message to himself ‘to get up and get on with life’, Tony wrote his famous song, “Rise”. He recorded an 18-song album, titled RISE. The objective was to make enough money to get back to Key West. Tony got a great deal pressing 100 copies to sell at a pricey $20 each, raising $2000. He sold 80 the first day. It was a great surprise. Within a few months, he was planning his move back to Key West.
Returning to Key West, he produced four more albums, with song, “Rise” on them. In 2009, a New York Yankee executive purchased a CD at one of his gigs. He contacted Tony asking to use the song “Rise” during Hope Week, one of the Yankees’ community outreach programs. Tony agreed but was deeply conflicted. It took Tony over a year to admit to his Boston friends that the Yankees used his song. The Yankees paid very well.
While on a cross country road trip, Tony was finishing the Chasing the Sun album. His now wife Brandy joined the tour. He proposed marriage at the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, and they married two days later at Rocky Mountain National Park. They have been together for five years.
While finishing his tour, Tony posted a video of one of his songs. Someone commented, “Don’t quit your day job”. For Tony, people are going to say whatever they want, you have to roll through it - “keep that smile on your face” (one of his lyrics). He immediately started working on a new song, “Let the Haters Hate” and completed it by the time he arrived in California. A real ugly comment helped Tony write a beautiful song. Score: Tony Roberts -100, Haters - zero.
In 2015, he was invited to play the Sunday Ramble, a showcase of local original Key West music, which was perfect for songwriter Tony Roberts. After a nervous hands-shaking rehearsal/sound check, Tony returned home anxious about the night’s performance. He hadn’t played with a full band for 5 years. His nervous apprehension was relieved after good friend, Caffeine Carl messaged, “No matter what happens, we got your back.”
Claire Finley had heard “Rise” before and really wanted to give it a try. Her vocals were inspiring. The performance reawakened Tony’s passions. The beautiful uplifting song, which had been retired during his solo gigs for the past 5 years, was now reborn, and so was Tony. It was recorded live at the Sunday Ramble. Tony says it’s the best recording of his song ever – “four chords and the truth”.
He takes life very seriously, in a very honest and positive way. He performs three times weekly at the Galleon Resort, Mondays at Rams Head South, and Sundays at Geiger Key Resort. If you haven’t heard Tony’s song “Rise”, get Chasing the Sun, the CD with the live recording.
© Ralph De Palma Photographer